Udta Punjab (2016) was the first film that I saw Shahid Kapoor in. I loved the film, which, if you haven’t seen it, is about the drug epidemic in Punjab; a controversial subject in heavily censored Bollywood. I was impressed by Diljt Dosanjh’s natural performance. Kareena Kapoor, of whom I am a fan, was great in this non-comedic role. The film gave me a newfound appreciation for an almost unrecognizable Alia Bhatt, who, without a doubt, stole the show as a pesticide spraying farm hand who gets into trouble when she tries to make a buck selling a bag of heroin that she finds in a field. Shahid Kapoor, however, was to put it simply, intriguing. He plays a superstar who gets caught up and amped up on drugs. His music turns to shit because of this, but his fans, also on the stuff, can’t seem to get enough of him. Some trouble with the law gets him thrown in jail where he meets a few fans who have committed horrible crimes while high on the drugs they heard about in his songs. It’s a humbling experience for him that leads to an identity crisis. I don’t want to give too much away here, but the film is definitely worth checking out.
I had heard Shahid’s name alongside other younger generation Bollywood heroes that I follow, like Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, but for some reason, I hadn’t really come across any of him films before this. And here, in Udta Punjab, I found him staring straight ahead with intense wide eyes, raving like a mad lunatic. It was an excellent performance, but I wondered if he could do more. Does he have range? I followed Udta Punjab with Imtiaz Ali’s 2007 film, Jab We Met. And like all Ali films, it was cute. Kareena Kapoor is an excellent Manic Pixie Dream Girl (See previous post for more on how I feel about Imtiaz Ali), and Shahid did a great job as sulking man who finds a love for life through a chance encounter with a MPDG. He was convincing in his leap from hopeless (probably suicidal) to creative impassioned leader. It was good (for an Imtiaz Ali movie). Shahid seemed to have a little more range here, and I was intrigued, but still, I had to see more. I followed with Haider.
I chose Haider because I always enjoy a suspense/thriller, because of the 8 plus stars it received on IMDB, the reviews that The Bollywood Project gave it, and Kay Kay Menon. The film is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and takes place in the disputed territory of Kashmir, the back story on which the plot of the film is based. I don’t know a lot about the Pakistan-India Kashmir dispute, and I don’t know a whole lot about Hamlet, but the film, though it dragged at times, was beautifully shot and had enough suspense to keep me going for the 2 hours and 42 minutes. Tabu was magnificent as Haider’s emotionally manipulative mother, Ghazala (tangent: how did I not know that Tabu is Shabana Azmi’s niece before this? They look so much alike…). Kay Kay Menon was, as always, perfect. Menon knows his characters and knows how to perform; he disappears into his roles, and so this was also the case with Haider’s cunning uncle Khurram. Shraddha Kapoor did a fine job with Arshia (I only saw her in Half *insert vomit sound here* Girlfriend before this. Enough said). But I noticed something about Shahid’s performance: he went from two to ten over and over again. I’m not rating him, I am talking about energy level. He went from serious, expressionless, emotionless, to extreme, eyes bulging, and shouting in just a moment. Any moment, really. That is impressive for any actor (maybe?), but I realized that that right there was Shahid’s range. There is nothing at all in between. I was unimpressed with his performance. I felt little empathy for his character. I couldn’t connect. And it occurred to me that Shahid Kapoor is Bollywood’s answer to Tom Cruise (in response to that, my husband suggested that Kay Kay Menon would be the answer to Gary Oldman. I agree). Tom Cruise, like Shahid, is (on occasion) a fine actor, is talented and probably has range somewhere hidden between these extreme performances that are meant to shock, awe, and impress. He has found schtick. It works for him. I can’t say that it works for me.